Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
It wasn't long ago that Martin Scorcese's Hugo, which worked in a bit of film history landed in theaters. Now, just weeks later, Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist has arrived, taking place roughly three decades later in time. Hugo uses modern technology (including 3D) to pay tribute to cinema's earliest films, while The Artist uses mostly old technology and technique. Surprisingly, the old fashioned film winds up as the superior film, and by quite some margin (remember, however, that I'm part of the small contingent who thought Hugo was a mess...).
Two people meet. They talk, frivolously at first, as if the encounter could dissolve in a matter of minutes under the right circumstances. But something happens. There's a spark between them, and it pulls them both in deeper and deeper, through the good and the bad, all through their words and reactions. This is a set-up that has been used in any number of films, from Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset to this year's Certified Copy.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Attention, Pirates of the Caribbean (and others), let Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol serve as an example that it is actually possible for an action/adventure franchise to improve with age. After two ho-hum adventures in the 90s, the Tom Cruise-led spy series went into hibernation, only to re-emerge in 2006 in the surprisingly rousing Mission Impossible 3, directed by J.J. Abrams. Now, almost six years later, the series has another entry, this time under the direction of Pixar alum Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), and though it lacks the fine-tuned kineticism of Abrams' film, it still stands as an improvement over the first two films in the MI canon.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
When it was announced that Tomas Alfredson's vampire tale Let the Right One In (2008) would receive an English language remake, cinephiles were left scratching their heads. Alfredson's Swedish film was an outstanding entry in the vampire genre, one filled with memorable sequences and images, and a climax that left many shuddering in their seats. So even though Matt Reeves' remake (titled Let Me In) was generally well-received, the question still remained: how is the remake justified other than as a means to get money out of those audience members with a fear of subtitles? At the end of the day, there really wasn't. Mr. Reeves' film is not a bad; it's actually nicely done. The only problem is that it feels redundant, as though Alfredson's excellent take was being pushed aside after not even being given proper recognition. The question remains, then, is there ever a time when an English-language remake or re-adaptation is actually worth more than a few extra dollars? In the case of David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the answer is a resounding 'yes'.
The film, a re-adaptation of the first installment of Stieg Larrson's hugely successful crime trilogy, isn't based off of anything remarkable. Though the trilogy does paint an intriguing picture of a highly corrupt Sweden, it also suffered its share of flaws that kept it from rising above rather pedestrian levels. The one aspect the stories have always had going for them, the real draw, comes down to one character: bisexual punk-hacker Lisbeth Salander. Previously embodied by Noomi Rapace, the role is now brought to life by Rooney Mara, who made her mark last year in the opening scene of Fincher's The Social Network. The question, then, was whether she would be able to move from that bit part to a leading role, and she has. Her stoic, steely gazes never grow repetitive or lazy, even though there's not as much meaning behind them as the story (or the series' die hard fans) would like us to believe. Mara is prettier and more delicate in appearance than Rapace, but this only makes her more effective when she unleashes her rage. She is, like just about everything else in this version of the story, superior to the Swedish counterpart, even if the character remains little more than a very cool idea.
For, like Mara's performance, Dragon Tattoo's story and characters are not exactly filled with great depth. Remove Lisbeth from the equation, and you have the potential to end up with little more than CSI: Stockholm. Thankfully, with the script from Steven Zaillian and under David Fincher's direction, the story reaches what is likely its best iteration possible. After a very brief opening scene, the film plunges us into a three minute credits sequence set to Karen O and Trent Reznor's cover of "Immigrant Song," filled with constantly shifting, inky images. It's dark, grungy, and weird, and it gets the film off on the right foot, even if the film itself never quite reaches the same high. It's telling, then, that the film's best moment comes straight from Fincher's mind, and not the source material. That said, in returning to the serial killer/crime genre (previously: Se7en, Zodiac), Fincher's meticulous gifts have elevated Larrson's story and characters as much as he can, all while making the whole affair come across as infinitely more cinematic than any of the Swedish versions.
A good deal of this has to do with Fincher's outstanding team of collaborators. First and foremost is cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who lights and colors the scenes in a way that makes the slightly washed-out nature of the digital photography still feel rich, as opposed to drained. Scoring duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who picked up the Original Score Oscar for The Social Network) return as well. Originally stating that they would try a more traditional, orchestral score, it's clear that the pair changed their minds later. Their music, more than fitting for the style, is filled with strange and ominous electronic sounds that only make the film, even in its more mundane moments, feel absorbing. How well individual pieces will hold up on their own is questionable, but when it comes to working with the images, it's just about flawless work. There's also the editing duo of Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, who picked up the Best Editing Oscar for The Social Network, who help piece the film together beautifully, accentuating Fincher's more fluid pacing. These three elements come together beautifully in a near-wordless stretch where Lisbeth and Mikael, in different locations, finally realize who the hidden villain of the mystery is. So even though a great deal of the plot is burdened with exposition, scenes like this help restore a sense of story telling order.
One of the story's biggest hurdles is that it keeps Mara's Lisbeth and Daniel Craig's Mikael Blomqvist apart for such a long time. Here, however, the pair's time apart, though still a little too long, feels more purposeful and elegantly composed. Zaillian's script also makes the smart decision to show Lisbeth doing some research on an enemy of Blomqvist's before they even meet. It ties in nicely to how the script has changed the ending, and prevents the resolution of that subplot from feeling like a really cheap form of deus ex machina. Additionally, Zaillian's script makes changes to the two leading characters, both of which work for the better. Lisbeth, while still cold and reserved, has the occasional flash of vulnerability, which adds a shade or two of characterization missing from the Swedish film, even though it's nothing remarkable. More impressive is how Zaillian has handled Blomqvist. In both the books and the Swedish films, the character has stood out as a painfully obvious author-insert (Larrson himself was something of a crusading journalist/womanizer). This version of Blomqvist, despite sleeping with two women over the course of the story, still feels more fitting for the story. In making Mikael less of a ladies man while casting the much more charismatic Daniel Craig (although just about anyone would have been better than Mikael Nyqvist) in the role, the character finally achieves the right balance. Other roles, filled out by Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgaard, Geraldine James, and Joely Richardson, are all nicely handled, even when considering their relatively limited screen time.
The biggest problem, as stated before, is simply the source material. Zaillian's alteration to the ending allows for resolution and adds a different angle to Lisbeth and Mikael's relationship that can be explored for the sequels (Fincher will likely direct the second and third films back-to-back, at a still-undecided time). A pity, then, that he didn't have the courage to depart further from the source material still. Had Zaillian, under Fincher's guidance, taken the characters and overarching plot, but completely reworked the scene-by-scene story, we could have had a truly brilliant entry in the cinematic crime genre. What we're left with however, is still worthy of admiration. The cast is game, the direction beautiful, and the artistic and technical aspects flawless. And most importantly, the film, through its differences in narrative and in style, feels justified. I'm not going to deny that making an English-language version of the film was a cash grab. It absolutely was. Thankfully, this is one cash grab that, despite its limitations, rises above its origins to the point where it deserves to become the definitive version of this story through level after level of icy Scandinavian hell. In Fincher (and Mara, and Craig, etc...) We Trust.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
For the past few years, South Korean cinema has made its mark with gritty crime stories and outlandish horror thrillers. For the most part, they’ve been quite the success stateside, at least critically if not commercially. This has, however, created an unfortunate stereotype around Korean films: that they must, in some form or another, feature grisly violence. But even though Chang-dong Lee’s Poetry involves a death as part of a subplot, it couldn’t be any further from the crime or horror trends that have swept up his contemporaries.
Though the film opens with a suicide, Lee’s film is not meant to accelerate one’s pulse. The death that begins the film plays but a small part in the limited, yet languid tale of self-discovery. Yang Mija (Jeong-hie Yun) is an elderly woman living in a small town with her grandson. Upon discovering that she has early signs of Alzheimer’s, she forgoes treatment, and enrolls herself in a poetry class, only to soon discover a rather unpleasant secret in her family.
As a story, the whole thing moves at a pace that borders on glacial. Lee is clearly striving to let the story unfold at a pace that suits its protagonist. Yet even though this leads to any number of spots where you may wander off, the piece as a whole does build to a quietly satisfying conclusion. At the same time, I wish he had kept the pacing the same but simply made the film about 30 minutes shorter; the same emotional goal could have easily been reached. I don’t mean to sound like a stereotypical member of the instant gratification generation, and I love many long films. But those films seem to earn it. With Poetry, the pacing, which was obviously meant to be reserved and contemplative, risks dipping into boredom. Lee never allows this to happen, but Poetry does, especially in its first half, teeter dangerously on the border between methodical and dull.
What holds it all together, though, is Ms. Yun, who gives a lovely, understated, and graceful performance as a woman trying to find herself in a world that is starting to leave her behind. This isn’t a terribly flashy piece of acting, but Yun is always interesting to watch, never letting her character’s out-of-touch nature become cloying or irritating. Mija is not a cartoon of an old woman; she is a fully developed human being who demands our attention, even though her goal – to break through her creative struggle and write a poem – may seem trivial. The screenplay lets this element develop so naturally that by the time it comes to a close, it’s hard not to be touched, albeit from a distance.
The key subplot, which involves Mija’s grandson, is the element that doesn’t quite gel, at least when it comes down to specifics. Given the severity of what is going on in the background, the reactions from just about everyone involved don’t seem strong enough. A different, less inflammatory secret (or at least one from further back in time) would have suited the movie’s aims better. What we’re left with never feels as though it reaches a proper resolution physically (though it does thematically).
But even though the film have its problems along the way, it is ultimately a journey worth taking. Yun’s delicate and beautiful performance is worth it, even though the film around her isn’t quite as well-executed. One can only hope that Mr. Lee and Ms. Yun will soon reunite on another project, one where director and actress are on the same level. The result, I imagine, would be cinematic poetry.
Over the course of his first three films, Jason Reitman explored three very different protagonists. First there was the charming big tobacco lobbyist in Thank You For Smoking, then the whip-smart pregnant teen in Juno, and finally the loner traveling corporate man in Up in the Air. Whatever their considerable differences, they at least shared one common trait, albeit in varying degrees: likeability. Sure, Eckhart's role in Smoking may be that of a man who sells poison, but by the story's end, he was a sympathetic character. This likeability, however, is where Reitman makes his biggest departure in his fourth film, Young Adult, which might feature the year's stand-out unlikeable protagonist (unless you're an avid hater of Margaret Thatcher and are still seething over the trailer for The Iron Lady).
Reuniting with Juno scribe Diablo Cody, Reitman's latest finds him returning to a female subject to scrutinize. She's Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a ghost writer for a series of Gossip Girl-esque young adult novels that is about to reach its end. Upon receiving an email that her old flame Buddy (Patrick Wilson) and his wife have just had their first child, Mavis returns to her tiny hometown with the delusional hope that she can win Buddy back because they're "meant to be together."
As with Up in the Air, Reitman uses the opening sequence to (almost wordlessly) establish Mavis within the confines of her Minneapolis apartment. She drinks, has Diet Coke for breakfast, and is accustomed to one night stands. But something's different here, and not exactly in a good way. The opening act of Young Adult is missing a sharpness, both in writing and in editing that made Up in the Air demand our attention so immediately. Though Cody's screenplay is generally devoid of the hipster-y quotability of Juno, the flip side of this is that it often feels like a first draft. The result is that the first chunk of the story often feels burdened with weird moments filled with nothing but dead air. This may be an attempt to show how empty and aimless Mavis' life is, but the execution left me feeling more like it was simply a usually on-point director missing his mark.
That the film gets off to such a rocky start is a shame, because Theron is clearly giving the role her all, even when the script feels like giving her only the thinnest of "nasty bitch" material to work with. The constant looks of emptiness and disgust Theron throws around should provide a constant jolt of dark humor, but more often then not they feel like wasted opportunities, because the character is a bitch simply because, well, she just is, okay???. But unlike, say, Shame, which never explored the source of Brandon's addiction, Young Adult never gives Mavis enough of an arc to make the time spent with the character feel fully earned. One could argue that she has something of a realization about how rotten she is, but it's not enough to make a solid case that she really changes, or will change. And if Mavis' stagnation is supposed to somehow be the point, Cody seems unconcerned with sharpening the point of the whole piece.
But even though the point may not quite be there, there's at least some material that's totally worth it. The film isn't exactly the dark comedy it's billed as (though it's dark), but a few moments do earn a decent, wicked laugh. As the story (which clocks in at a clean 90 minutes) moves through its acts, the dead air starts to fade away, and the character interactions feel better distilled, devoid of unintentional awkwardness or narrative flab. Largely, this is due to Theron's work as Mavis, which is so committed that you wish Cody and Reitman had taken a few months to really punch up the script so that the journey would be one that people recommend despite the protagonist's unlikeability. Instead, Young Adult leaves us with a decent enough film with a strong performance at its core. The work from other cast members, like Patton Oswalt, Wilson, and Collette Wolfe, is engaging, but not enough to really make a mark. The film is All About Mavis, but the problem is that Cody hasn't given the role quite enough meat, and the film suffers because of it, even though portions feel right on target. Young Adult is clearly meant to be an uncomfortable, darkly funny film, but at the end of the day it's neither uncomfortable nor darkly funny enough to really justify the journey it takes us on.
Monday, December 19, 2011
When I reviewed Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009), I made a remark that his set-up of the character followed a path eerily similar to that of Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005). Both films took a classic character and reinvented them, while squaring them off with a relatively mundane antagonist. Both films also concluded with a set-up for a sequel that would introduce the hero's most famous villain. For Batman, it was the Joker, as embodied by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008); for Holmes, it's Prof. Moriarty. Both characters represent the ultimate challenges for their respective protagonists. They are, essentially, their doubles; the corrupted versions of the heroes had they fallen into a path of darkness. The big difference, at least on screen, is that where Mr. Nolan's sequel was a grander, richer, darker film, Mr. Ritchie's follow-up gives us more of the Holmes that audiences loved two years ago, only with diminished results.
Opening some vague amount of time after the '09 film, A Game of Shadows quickly plunges us into a world uncomfortably close to war. A series of assassinations and bombings have put mainland Europe on edge. For Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.), however, it can all be traced to Prof. Moriarty (Mad Men's Jared Harris), even though he doesn't have the concrete evidence to prove it. At the same time, Holmes must deal with the potential loss of his closest ally, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who is about to get married. Things change, however, when Holmes and Moriarty start to clash, and the pair must find a way to prevent the Professor from setting the entire continent ablaze with war.
Yet whatever fun there was in Ritchie's take on the classic Conan Doyle character in the first go-round suddenly seems depleted here. The opening sequences, which reintroduce Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler, fail to stick, even though they directly involve Moriarty himself. Rather than advance the world he established last time, Ritchie appears to have become lazy here, and the flow of scenes often feels like it's missing a certain extra oomph. Even the fight scenes, which start off with Holmes playing through possible scenarios in his head before progressing to the real action, don't inspire the same level of fun they did just two years ago. While the portions that take place in Holmes' mind remain effective (and they lead to a fun twist on the concept at the conclusion), the actual fights feel sloppily staged and edited. When showing the nuts and bolts of how things work in drastic close-ups and slow motion, whether it's a fight scene or the firing of a machine gun, A Game of Shadows has some spark to it. But when it gets around to the more mundane parts of its action, the staging and choreography seem to vanish and become replaced with rapid-fire cuts.
This would be a smaller complaint were there not so many other unfortunate issues. The biggest problem the film has, a crucial flaw for an adventure of its nature, is the characters. At the outset, Holmes almost doesn't feel like himself; it's as if Downey Jr. decided to dispense with his previous interpretation and try his hand at a less wacky/drunk Jack Sparrow. The odd choice vanishes after the first 20 minutes or so, but it's puzzling nonetheless. Once it's gone, though, Downey Jr. becomes the Holmes that was so popular (and earned him a surprise victory at the Golden Globes) last time. Law's Watson remains the same, making a nice bro-mantic foil for Downey Jr., though never feeling quite as integral to the plot as he should. Noomi Rapace (the original Lisbeth Salander) is also here, but not given nearly enough to do, despite her connection to the story. Jared Harris, on the other hand, has enough to do, and makes for an effective Moriarty. The problem with the character, however, lies in the script. He and Holmes meet face-to-face as enemies quite early on. It's a technique that could have resulted in a devilishly clever battle of wits, but the film sidelines Harris too often. Worse, Moriarty's big scheme, evil though it may be, isn't executed on screen in a manner that makes it feel worthy of the character's reputation.
That's not to say that this is a completely joyless exercise, however. Though the humor doesn't work nearly as well as it did in the previous film, Downey Jr. and Law's chemistry remains firmly intact. And as over-stylized as some of the action sequences may be in their use of slow-motion, their slick assembly is a fun distraction from the otherwise middle of the road execution. A Game of Shadows does have a saving grace though, and it comes in where it counts: the ending. The film's entire last act, set in a Swiss castle perched on a waterfall, is an absolute blast, resulting in a face-off both physical and mental that is allowed to run its course, rather than be cut short for the sake of finding an ending. It's really a shame that everything that came before couldn't have been more effective, because by the time the film rolled around to its conclusion, I was ready to forgive it for its missteps. Unfortunately, as fun as the final act is, it can't undo the flaws that came before it, even though I'll bet that Mr. Ritchie really wishes that it could.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Whatever fame (or infamy) the Golden Globes may possess, there's no doubt that they can be one of the key indicators of how awards season will swing. And in a year where few nominations feel certain, this year's Globe roster is finally helping the race take shape, all while throwing in a few wild cards.
For the full list of nominees, click HERE.
In Best Actor we have another fairly expected lineup, although I'm super-excited that the otherwise ignored Shame managed to score a nod for Michael Fassbender's excellent work, though I suspect this category will come down to Clooney vs. Pitt. As for Musical/Comedy, the choices are very nice, although this is hands-down going to Dujardin.
For Best Actress, Drama will likely come down to either Meryl Streep or Viola Davis. Things could swing in Davis' favor, however, considering that there seems to be a lack of passion around the other aspects of The Iron Lady, whereas The Help has been a huge success. Still-trying-for-an-Oscar Glenn Close or surprising almost-a-sure-thing contender Tilda Swinton could surprise here, but it's highly doubtful. And as for Rooney Mara, she should be thanking her lucky stars that she's here. As well-received as Fincher's take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been received thus far, it's the sort of film that, like his other serial killer films (Se7en, Zodiac), will make little to no impact on the awards race (barring some tech nods). As far as comedy goes, it really comes down to three of the 5. Most likely is Michelle Williams, as the HFPA will likely go gaga over the fact that Williams played (mostly successfully) an icon. The only other threats here are Charlize Theron's super-unlikeable character from Young Adult, or Bridesmaids' leading lady Kristen Wiig. Foster and Winslet (Carnage), like Mara in Drama, should simply be thankful for the nominations.
Where the Globes will really prove to be telling, however, is in the Supporting categories, which aren't separated by Musical/Comedy and Drama. For Supporting Actor, there are three possibilities, none of whom come off as a clear front-runner. Yes, Albert Brooks made it in for Drive while everything else about the film was snubbed, but even with his other critics awards, something about this performance doesn't feel like a major threat. There's also Christopher Plummer's lovely turn in Beginners, a performance that has the unrewarded veteran factor on its side. Lastly, there's Kenneth Branagh, who, like Michelle Williams, could score for his lively portrayal of an acting icon.
In Supporting Actress, the HFPA's winner will provide more of an indicator. The Artist's Berenice Bejo could finally gain some traction, or one of the ladies from The Help (Chastain, Spencer) could take the lead. Chastain does have the one-hell-of-a-debut-year factor on her side, and with her work in The Help standing as her most noticeably emotional, it could become the means by which awards bodies reward her for an outstanding year all around. There is room for potential spoilers Janet McTeer (who's been stealing co-star Glenn Close's buzz) or The Descendants' Shailene Woodley, although her lack of experience could go against her.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I've more or less avoided commenting on the 2011-12 Awards Season so far, due to a number of factors. However, with this morning's unveiling of the Screen Actors Guild nominees and tomorrow's Golden Globe nominee announcement, I figured it was time to put in my 2 cents on the state of the race so far.
For a full list of the SAG nominees, click HERE.
The film may have barely any exposure (as of now, it's not scheduled to open anywhere in the US outside of New York and L.A., which seems ridiculous), but that doesn't have an bearing on awards bodies. With back-to-back snubs (09's Julia and 10's I am Love), Swinton's passionate fan base has finally expanded, and the build-up could be enough to push her through to second Oscar nomination (about time). Then there's the above-mentioned Olsen, along with Charlize Theron, who still stand as potential threats.
As far as the supporting categories go, the women seem to be taking shape, while the men seems as all-over-the-place as ever. Berenice Bejo, previously thought to be gone, has finally come back. More predictable are The Help's Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain (at which point I'll assume that this is the performance she'll be primarily rewarded for in the future). "White people, man. White people..." - Octavia Spencer.
Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids is a nice surprise, and it's good to see that the handful of critics awards she's picked up haven't been for nothing. All the same, it's too bad that co-star Kristen Wiig has been so thoroughly ignored. Hopefully the Globes will change that tomorrow morning. Finally, there's Janet McTeer from Albert Nobbs, who's been earning some of the film's strongest reviews. On the other hand, this looks like the end of the road for Coriolanus' Vanessa Redgrave.
As for the men, the category has some mild front-runners, but the other slots have always seemed like question marks. Beginners' Christopher Plummer could very well take this, although SAG might fall in love with Branagh's interpretation of Laurence Olivier. Nick Nolte (Warrior) was once brought up as a possibility, but the film's failure at the box office seemed to be the end of him until now. As far as Jonah Hill and Armie Hammer are concerned, though, they probably ought to be happy that they made it in here at all.
Another bone to pick with SAG, though, comes down to the structure of the awards: why on earth do the TV awards not have separate categories for lead and supporting roles? There are so many good performances on TV right now, and the current roster of categories leaves the categories prone to defaulting to lead performances (except in the comedy categories). Oh well, at the very least Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are nominated, although Aaron Paul and Peter Dinklage have fallen victim to the limited acting categories. At least they didn't do something crazy like nominating Colin Hanks for Dexter. Yeesh. "Yo, Claire: u mad?" - Jessica Lange.
One nice surprise, however, is the inclusion of American Horror Story's Jessica Lange in drama. The role is clearly supporting, and the show is batshit-insane and messy as hell, but Lange is one of the most consistently compelling (and deliciously campy) aspects of that glorious train wreck (season 1, and Connie Britton is already about to give birth to the antichrist...seriously).
The SAG awards air on January 29th; here's hoping that the guild members at least make some inspired choices from their relatively uninspired choices.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Steve McQueen really loves to make Michael Fassbender stare. Whether it's at a person, an object, or simply off into the distance, both of the director's collaborations with Fassbender have featured quite a bit of soulful/mournful staring. The difference in their second go-round together, though, is that this time the staring actually feels as though it has some characterization to it. Rather than hit a sophomore slump, McQueen and Fassbender have made a vast improvement in Shame, the director's examination of loneliness and sex addiction.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
When the first images of Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe surfaced, eyebrows were inevitably raised. Despite her considerable talents, Williams has been known for dour roles that require none of the bubbly magnetism that Monroe was so famous for. Therefore, it's arguable that whether or not My Week with Marilyn is mild success or a small failure, because it's certainly not going to be remembered for much in a few years time.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
For all of the baseball talk in Bennett Miller's Moneyball, which follows Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as he tries to rewrite the rules of scouting, there is something universal about its protagonist's quest. Yes, this is a movie revolving around baseball, but don't confuse this for another The Blind Side or Remember the Titans. At its core, Moneyball is about a man's obsession with finding self-validation in a game he can no longer play. So even though there's a hardly a scene where baseball isn't involved (I counted...2...3?), Miller and co. have fashioned a steady, engaging film that benefits from a charismatic performance from its golden leading man.